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Auckland to Bay of Islands to Auckland

Driving Tour

So great news – you’ve got a 5 day trip planned to the Bay of Islands and you’re setting off from Auckland. Although there’s heaps of stuff to do once you get up there, make sure you take the time on your drive north to stop off at some of the little gems along the way – it’s a great way to break up your journey but also discover some of the great things that are not always listed in the ‘things to do’ guides. So, without further ado – let’s GO!


  1. Route map with key locations
  2. Recommended vehicle for this trip
  3. Trip itinerary

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Trip Itinerary

1Auckland to Paihia (227kms – 2 hours 54 mins)

Whether you’ve just flown in or you live in and around Auckland, the drive North up State Highway 1 offers up some great stop off points on the way so take your time and make the most of some of these little unknown beauties.

Image of Long Bay Regional Park on Auckland's North Shore

Long Bay Regional Park
(23.8kms – 27 mins)

Heading out of Auckland on SH1 a great little detour awaits only half an hour into your journey. Long Bay Regional Park located close to Browns Bay is a great place to soak up some fresh coastal air and have a stroll on the cliff top walk. The bay itself is great for kayaking and paddle boarding so if that floats your boat, give it a whirl.

Puhoi (32.3kms – 30 mins)

As SH1 comes to an end in the typical sense of a highway and moves to predominantly a single lane road all the way north, you’ll come across the quaint little village of Puhoi. If cheese is your thing, the Puhoi Valley Café and Cheese Store is well worth a stop off to stock up. They do a delicious blue cheese as well as more traditional cheese varieties that you’ll struggle to find in the supermarkets. They also have some awesome ice creams so whatever the weather, treat yourself!

Kawakawa (170kms – 2 hours 9 mins)

The next stage of your journey north passes through commercial hubs like Warkworth and Whangarei. If you get chance to stop off in and around Warkworth, there are some great little vineyards in and around Matakana if you want to stock up for the weekend. Kawakawa is worth a quick stop off and for the most unusual reason – the public toilets! Designed by renowned Austrian artist Friendensreich Hundertwasser, the toilets are an artistic marvel!

Paihia (16.5km – 19 mins)

From Kawakawa it’s only a short drive to your final destination of Paihia, gateway to the Bay of Islands. Hopefully you’ll have arrived in plenty of time to get your bearings and have an explore and maybe book yourself onto a trip for the following day. The best way to explore the Bay of Islands is undoubtedly on the water so check out your options and get yourself booked on an excursion.

Auckland to Bay of Islands Spotify Playlist

2Around the Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is packed with things to do so we recommend taking your first full day up here to head out on a trip and explore the islands. With so many options it’s difficult to decide what to do – here’s a list of our highlights from the adventurous to the more sedate:

Bay of Islands Cruise

There are many companies offering a cruise round the harbour including Fullers and the Explore Group. Trips will take you out dolphin watching and to famous landmarks like the Hole in the Rock. Great news for you guys is that Bay of Islands Cruise offer a 15% discount when you present your shiny GO Play card so make sure you take advantage and head out onto the water.

10% off

Use your GO Play card here

Explore Dune Rider Cape Reinga

GO Play Discount Card

Jet Boat Ride

If you’ve never experienced the power of a jet boat ride, the Bay of Islands is a great way to break your duck. Traveling along at breakneck speeds, the jet boat experience will get you out into the deep waters to explore the multitude of Islands whilst giving you a thrill ride at the same time. You’ll also get the chance to go and check out the famous ‘Hole in the Rock’.


Image looking through from the Mast at Russell looking down onto the town For a more sedate day, why not catch the ferry across to Russell (20 minutes) and wander the Olde Worlde streets. There are some lovely cafes and restaurants on the sea front where you can easily spend a few hours people watching. The Duke of Marlborough is a particular favourite of the GO Rentals team.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

New Zealand’s premier historic site where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 – a partnership between Maori and the British Crown and the founding document of New Zealand. Visit the treaty house and take a look at the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe.


The Bay of Islands is one of New Zealand’s premier deep fishing spots so if this is your thing, get yourself booked onto a charter and out into the deeper waters beyond the Islands. Kingfish, Marlin and Snapper are the order of the day and if you’re successful out at sea, any one of the fish and chip shops located in the town will batter up your catch of the day for around 50 cents – a great end to the day.

Bay of Islands Complete Guide

3Cape Reinga (212.5kms – 2 hours 41 mins)

A trip to Northland wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Northern most tip of New Zealand where you get to see the rare occurrence of 2 oceans colliding which can be spectacular on a stormy day. The Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean cross over at the tip of Cape Reinga and from the lighthouse, you get some fantastic views out over the spectacle.

Image of a sign found at Cape Reinga pointing to different places around the world with the distance
GO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

The drive north will take you up alongside 90 mile beach and it’s well worth a stop off on your way up or on your way back down.

90 Mile Beach

Officially a highway, 90 mile beach is only recommended for 4WD vehicles and unfortunately our GO cars are not insured to be driven on the sand. This doesn’t mean that you can’t still have lots of fun up here. From surfing the waves to riding the sand dunes, there are plenty of activities on both the land and sea to keep you entertained.

It will have been a full day of driving but hopefully you have managed a lot of pit stops along the way and really soaked up the best that Northland has to offer. Arriving back in Paihia, there are plenty of options for eating and drinking – two GO Rentals favourites include Only Seafood and the Bay of Islands Swordfish Club who always have a warm welcome for visitors.

4Paihia, Kerikeri and around

After a full on day driving up to the Northern most tip of New Zealand, today is going to be a bit more relaxing with less driving and more sight-seeing.

The Stone Store and Mission House

Located in Kerikeri, the Stone Store is New Zealand’s oldest building dating back to 1836. This is a chance to take a step back in time and from here you can also go on a tour of New Zealand’s oldest building, the wooden Mission House which dates back to 1822. There is a store that sells all sorts of Kiwiana gifts as well as the type of goods that used to be sold in the Stone Store.

There are some short walks around the area including the historical walk which leads you on a trail of discovery back into Maori culture.

Haruru Falls

A short drive out of Paihia and you come across Haruru Falls – a small residential settlement that sit alongside the waterfalls of the same name. Haruru literally means ‘big noise’ and the water coming over the falls after heavy rainfall can make a deafening sound. The waterfalls provide some great photo opportunities and if you don’t fancy a drive out today, you can always hop onto a boardwalked track that runs from the Waitangi Treaty Grounds to the falls.

Around Paihia

Of course this day is all about relaxing and with so much to do here in the Bay of Islands, this is also a great chance to explore anything you didn’t manage to fit into day 2 of your adventure. If you took a trip out on a boat to see the Hole in the Rock or maybe a jet boat ride, perhaps today is the day for catching the ferry over to Russell and taking it easy.

5Paihia to Auckland via Waipoua Forest (345kms – 4 hours 45 mins)

Hopefully you will have crammed a lot into your 5 day trip to the Bay of Islands – there is so much to see and do up here that people always leave wishing they had more time. If you’re not in a hurry to get back to Auckland it’s well worth taking a longer route back to the big little city to check out the impressive Kauri trees in the Waipoua Forest.

Waipoua Forest (113kms – 1 hours 44 mins)

Here you will find the best preserved and largest of the remaining Kauri forests in New Zealand. Among them is the legendary Tane Mahuta, the ‘Lord of the Forest’ who at 51.5 metres is the largest (by volume) of these ancient trees.
Image of Tahe Mahuta - Lord of the Forest in Waipoua Forest

It’s another 232kms back to Auckland which will take you just over 3 hours so make sure you allow plenty of time in your day.

If you have time to explore Auckland, you can check out our Top 5 things to do in Auckland page with lots of ideas whether you’ve got an hour or a day.

Related Blog Posts

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Toyota Corolla

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5 seats
Large Bags
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